This morning at 6:46 a.m. found me on a train moving south, into the wilds of Tacoma. And a new biblioteque was discovered!
Through some miracle and wonder of Tacoma’s strangely modern link trolley, I arrived at this edifice with a blazing coffee in hand at the very moment that it, the library, opened.
Glorious place! It is an old factory:
Anyway…a suprising number of new finds were unearthed. To wit:
I. China Books
1. Zhang Lijia, “Socialism is Great!”: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China (New York: Atlas & Co., 2008).
Zhang Lijia was born in 1964, and is thus of that peculiar generation of Chinese who have a handful of hazy, hungry, and sometimes traumatic but just as often sweet, memories of the years of the Cultural Revolution. Spared of the political dust-ups of the mid-1960s, they nevertheless grew to age as the children of those consequential power struggles in Beijing. Ideology of class struggle formed the backbone of their elementary school years. (While 1978-79 marked the beginning of the “reform period,” it is often forgotten that from 1978-1981 in particular, prior to the Party having rendered its historical verdict on Mao at the Eleventh Party Congress, educational rhetoric remained largely revolutionary. There is nothing more interesting, but quietly unsettling, about standing in a friend’s study or in a second-hand bookstore, reading through an English workbook from the PRC from those years. “We continue the revolution, how many reactionaries divded by two and times five equals 100 flowers” etc…..
How lovely it would be for us to imagine that all Chinese of that age were like the fetching (and somewhat older) Jung Chang, who escaped to London as she breathlessly recalled, ready to get out of the hothouse of China and start a new life. But in fact, most Chinese stayed in China.
Zhang Lijia is one who stayed, and her memoir weaves among narratives of iron-rice-bowl systems, social changes, personal relationships, and ultimately the Democracy Movement of 1989, which is where the memoir ends.
It is an attractive book, tightly bound, immaculately cut, with a beautiful typeface that respects the eye and adorns the page; it is embossed in red and is just the right dimensions for one’s hands, whatever their size. (The physical aspects of book layout are far too often neglected in the composition of reviews! I will always regret not praising these aspects of my review of Ian Johnson’s Wild Grass, whose design, layout, and ribbed orange cover strike me even in recollection with a subtle chill.)
Zhang is a fine writer, who uses real verbs like “locked” (e.g., “When Ma returned home from work, I was locked in Fortress Besieged.” (p. 134, opening salvo to Chapter 14).
More on this completely worthy text later. The discussion of marital fidelity and its connection to/tensions between romantic love is particularly frank. Sexuality and love in the early 1980s PRC is here given a voice (p. 284).
My final thought with this text is for the need to revamp periodization and university curricula so that students can understand “Modern China” from 1979 forward, rather than 1949. A self-respecting China Studies program such as exists at my university (in fact, I appear to be an integral part of the thing!) and those with similar faculty resources should probably be offering China courses along the following lines:
2. Imperial China (Qin/Han to the Qing)
3. Revolutionary China (late Qing-early Republic)
4. Mao / CCP history, 1921-1978 [with occasional topics courses in the Chinese Civil War]
5. The Cultural Revolution
6. Modern China, 1978-present
That’s an ideal and what, to my perceptions, students would take. And the 1980s are a completely fascinating decade in the PRC, especially as regards rock music and popular culture.